Monospace di Bertone

Thirty years before Urus, Bertone envisaged a fashionable high-riding Lamborghini four-door. But it wasn’t an SUV – after all, they already made one of those.

Image credit: adoniscars via autowp

Despite being largely associated with mid-engined supercars, Lamborghini remains something of an exception in automotive terms. Perhaps it’s a function of the marque’s beginnings as makers of farm machinery, but the abstract of Lamborghini appears more malleable than most. Debatable of course, but to a large extent, it’s possible to envisage Sant’Agata Bolognese’s most bullish export as almost any type of vehicle, unlike most of its Modenese rivals.

Certainly, this line dovetails with the one proffered by those who choose to defend Lamborghini’s most recent ménage à deux with the four rings of Ingolstadt. The recently announced Urus marks possibly the most nakedly offensive iteration of the current fashion for weaponised SUVs, so much so that it’s difficult to envisage how the theme could be realistically evolved, short of placing a gun turret on the roof.

It’ll rip your face off. Image: CNET

In 1987, a cash-rich and acquisitive Chrysler Corporation purchased Automobili Lamborghini as an exotic trinket to bolster its growing portfolio and in the Autumn of that year premiered the Jalpa-engined Portofino concept at Frankfurt. This manifested a clear and present risk to Bertone, the Italian carrozzeria best associated with the marque. Keen to maintain this connection in the minds of Sant’Agata’s new US masters, they prepared a Lamborghini-powered concept for the following year’s Turin motor show.

Called Genesis, the five-seater monospace concept was described by Bertone’s eponymous principal in the following terms. “Genesis represents a vision of a possible GT car for coming decades which incorporates the mobility and comfort requirements of the near future.”

We ought not lose sight of the fact that the 1980s marked the rise of the MPV, viewed by many of automotive’s finest conceptual minds at the time as a template for the car of the future. But another likely reason for Bertone’s choice of format was the fact that work on Lamborghini’s Countach replacement was already in hand at Tom Gale’s studios in Detroit, so there was little point in ploughing that particular furrow.

Bertone lead designer, Marc Deschamps’ rationale was that while demand for supercars would continue unabated, customers would increasingly demand the greater practicality and added convenience a taller, larger vehicle would provide. This was in essence rather far-seeing, even if it was in effect, only half right.

Powered (in fact Genesis was a non-runner) by a front-mounted V12 engine from the Countach and mated to an automatic transmission, the Sant’Agata five-seater placed the front occupants on either side of the engine tunnel, sitting (literally) atop the vast wheelarches. With virtually no front overhang or much by way of meaningful crush structure, the footwells it seems would essentially form the crumple zone.

Rear passengers were better catered for, with two armchairs flanking the transmission tunnel and a single foldable jumpseat astride it with various modular seating arrangements being theoretically possible. Access was by a pair of sliding doors, while at the front, two huge gullwings opened up the vast glass canopy in dramatic, if somewhat impractical fashion.

Despite efforts on the designer’s part to minimise the visual height of the vehicle by use of body-colour feature lines to break up the glazing (creating an illusion of there being almost two separate canopies), the result was an impactful, but somewhat plump looking device. More dynamic than a contemporary Espace one might suggest, but far less intelligent, to say nothing of practical. But then one imagines, basic utility wasn’t exactly a core component of the brief.

Veteran former Pininfarina car designer, Tom Tjaarda, casting an eye over the carrozzeria fare at Turin that year, was also ambivalent, telling Car, “The Bertone minivan looks interesting but it is too complicated and there are too many interfacing surfaces.” But what Genesis really illustrates is that the dreamers of dreams amidst la carrozzeria Italiana had as little true grasp of future trends as the rest of us.

Image credit:

Thirty years ago, few could see the SUV as becoming the dominant vehicle format, much less that every prestige manufacturer would be making one. The irony of course was that Lamborghini was already doing so. Of even greater irony was the fact they could barely sell any.

Times change. Bertone and most of their fellow carrozzerie are gone. The monospace too appears to be amid its death-throes and Lamborghini has launched another SUV, and this time round, they’ll sell them as fast as they can stamp them out.

Crystal ball gazing is a fool’s game at the best of times, but will we (or our decedents) look back in 2048 and gawp at today’s military grade behemoths and wonder, was it something in the Bolognese?

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

7 thoughts on “Monospace di Bertone”

  1. This doesn’t really fall into the ‘missed opportunity’ category, does it?

  2. The carrozzerie were often accused for putting their ‘house style’ ahead of their clients’ form language, and not without reason. Late Deschamps went one step further, however: these vehicles are simply anonymous. This could be a particularly half-hearted effort from Cambiano or Moncalieri, and nobody would’ve raised an eyebrow. The Caprie whiff certainly wasn’t in evidence during those days.

    Maybe those blank concept cars led to Deschamps overcompensating in terms of flamboyance when he moved to Heuliez…

  3. The design is quite a pleasant interpretation of the MPV theme. Labelling it Lamborghini made little sense. Perhaps the idea made sense when these proposals were taken seriously: “Bertone plans Lamborghini people carrier” might be read by the layman as “gosh, there will be a Lamborghini van”. Industry insiders would not be fooled and they were the ones who were going to commission Bertone or not. On reflection, the carrozzeria had only a few customers: car manufacturers of whom only a few ever relied on the carrozeria. It´s remarkable they carried on spending money on show cars for as long as they did.

  4. It has a pretty sizeable front overhang. But not much in the way of a crash structure ahead of the passengers, it is true.

    I have long been intrigued by the idea of a mid-engined MPV (which this isn’t, really). As far as I know, the original Toyota Previa is the only vehicle of this type that went into production. Pushing the wheels to the corners and siting the engine in between the passengers always seemed like a great format to me.

    Of course, it is now largely redundant due to forthcoming electric vehicle platforms, which are much more flexible. I hope the VW Bulli / Microbus will deliver on its promise. It could be brilliant.

    1. Didn´t the Previa apply a lot of the ideas seen in the monospace we are talking about today – except for the front-mounting of the engine (which was going to make for real heat management problems)?

  5. Not sure why, but the Pink Panthermobile came to mind when I read this about a ‘Lamborghini MPV’. Maybe I should lay off the coffee for a few days.

    There were other, more prosaic ‘mid-engined’ MPVs produced by Toyota before the Previa, although I think they could probably be better described as small mini-buses. I remember riding in one when I was lodging with a Mormon family in Paris (it’s a long and convoluted story) whilst studying there in 1990/ 91.

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